Rams clinch NFC West title behind Gurley
DETROIT (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams returned to their lockers in the Motor City, where NFC West championship shirts and hats were waiting to be worn.
The victors, though, refuse to be spoiled by this accomplishment.
“We’re not satisfied yet,” said defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had two sacks and forced a fumble. “But we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Rams (11-1) moved a step closer to earning home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, taking a one-game lead over New Orleans after it lost to Dallas on Thursday night. It is a cushion Los Angeles needs because its only loss was against the Saints last month.
“We’re in a position right now that we feel good about,” coach Sean McVay said. “If we take care of our business, all the rest of that stuff takes care of itself.”
The Lions (4-8) have lost five of six since a surge of success gave them a winning record in late October.
“I’m extremely tired of losing,” center Graham Glasgow said.
Detroit’s defense held Los Angeles’ high-powered offense in check for three quarters, giving the slumping team a shot to potentially pull off a stunning upset. The Lions, though, failed to make the most of the opportunity because their offense struggled to move the ball and score.
Donald helped seal the win by forcing Matthew Stafford to fumble midway through the fourth quarter. The star defensive tackle had two strip-sacks in his last game on Nov. 19, a 54-51 win over Kansas City.
“He held the ball and was loose with it,” Donald said. “I just took advantage.”
Donald has an NFL-high 16½ sacks this season, and the Rams say he should be an MVP candidate.
“He’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” quarterback Jared Goff said of the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year.
Linebacker Samson Ebukam recovered Stafford’s fumble at the Detroit 24 and Gurley scored on a 13-yard run three snaps later, giving the Rams a 23-13 lead.
Goff, perhaps rusty coming off a bye week, was off the mark on many passes and lost a fumble to help keep the game close. His lackluster performance led to Los Angeles settling for Greg Zuerlein kicking three field goals. Goff was 17 of 33 for 207 yards with a tiebreaking, 8-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods late in the second quarter. Goff also threw an interception on an overthrown pass in the second quarter and lost a fumble in the third quarter.
The Rams were able to lean on Gurley, who has a single-season franchise record with 15 rushing touchdowns. The star running back also caught three passes for 33 yards.
Stafford was 20 of 33 yards for 245 yards with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tackle Taylor Decker, who faked the Rams out by blocking for a moment before releasing into the flat where he was left wide open. Decker’s touchdown pulled Detroit within three points late in the third quarter.
The Lions had a chance to cut its deficit to three again late in the game, but Kenny Golladay couldn’t get both feet in the end zone on a pass from Stafford and they had settle for Matt Prater’s third field goal.
Gurley converted a third down late in the game, and after breaking free, he chose not to score to run more time off the clock and force Detroit to take timeouts. It proved a good move because Gurley ran for a 2-yard score with 1:54 left and the Lions were left with no timeouts on their final drive. That ended with Troy Hill intercepting a pass in the end zone with 12 seconds left.
“I wanted to waste some time,” Gurley said.
SUH OR BOO?
Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh played against Detroit for the first time and made six tackles.
“I got a warm welcome back,” he said.
Detroit drafted Suh No. 2 overall eight years ago and he left for Miami as a free agent in 2015. After the Dolphins cut him earlier this year, he signed a one-year deal with the Rams.
When he played for the Lions, the fans would say his last name after he made a play. When his name was announced after his first tackle Sunday, the crowd seemed to jeer him.
“I don’t believe it was a boo,” Suh said.
Los Angeles receiver Brandin Cooks, who had four receptions for 62 yards, became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards receiving in three straight years with three different franchises. He helped set up a field goal that gave the Rams a 13-3 halftime lead.
Cooks surpassed 1,000 last year with New England and in 2016 with New Orleans. Cooks also had a 1,000-yard season with the Saints in 2015.
Rams: RB Malcom Brown left the game with a shoulder injury. CB Aqib Talib played for the first time since going down with an ankle injury in Week 3.
Lions: LB Devon Kennard went out with a hip injury.
Rams: Play at Chicago on Sunday night.
Lions: Play at Arizona on Sunday.